Last week we counted down the first 15 players in our annual "Top 25 Under 25," and our introductory text, criteria and assorted whatnot can be found in that post. But you don't want to read that now. You want to get right to the top 10. Well, here it is...
10. Connor Carrick, D (21.5 years old as of October 10, 2015; drafted 137th in 2012; previously ranked 12th)
After a 34-game taste of NHL action as a rookie in 2013-14, Carrick didn't play a single game in Washington last season. Instead, he spent the winter exorising the ghost of Adam Oates while leading all Hershey blueliners in goals, assists and points (8-34-42) and racking up a perhaps surprising 132 penalty minutes (including six fights). His size remains a lingering concern, and he'll look to continue to improve his defensive play with the Bears this season, but it's a pretty safe bet that he'll make his return to the NHL at some point, as he's currently somewhere between 7th and 9th on the Capitals' defensive depth chart.
9. Tom Wilson, LW (21.5; drafted 16th in 2012; previously ranked 6th)
Wilson has the frame and physicality to be the type of power forward that NHL general managers drool over, but has yet to display much of the skill that made him a first-round pick rather than a dime-a-dozen big-bodied banger (which isn't without its own charms, of course... just ask Lubomir Visnovsky). On the plus side, Wilson drew penalties at a terrific rate, a particularly useful skill on a team that converts one of every four power plays). He also posted strong underlying numbers in more than 300 minutes skating on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin (even though those numbers didn't translate to as much offense as one might hope... which is partially, but not entirely, a function of bad luck).
Wilson just turned 21 in March, so there's plenty of time for him to evolve into the player he's going to be (Mike Knuble, for example, didn't score 15 goals in a season until he was 26). But he's going to have to take a step forward in a 2015-16 season that will likely see his roles and responsibilities increase for anyone to feel particularly confident that he's on the right trajectory towards developing into that prototypical power forward, and not a first-round bust.
8. Ilya Samsonov, G (18.6; drafted 22nd in 2015; not previously ranked)
When the Caps selected a goalie with their first-round pick this past June, it raised eyebrows, given both the nature of selecting netminders so high and the fact that the team would appear to be set in goal for the foreseeable future. But in sticking to their guns and drafting who they believed to be the best available player left on the board, the Caps got a "massive Russian ... capable of a highlight-reel save when needed" who "covers the net well[,] plays at the top of the crease and effectively squares to the shooter" and "reads the play well[,] is quick to close down the net [and is an] ultra competitor who never gives up on a play." Sounds good, but goalies are voodoo, and this one's at least a few years away from crossing the pond, so all of that upside is just that for now - upside.
7. Philipp Grubauer, G (23.9; drafted 112th in 2010; previously ranked 11th)
Following an impressive 17-appearance 2013-14 season, Grubauer only appeared in two NHL games in 2014-15: a 3-2 shootout win over the Ducks in early February, and a memorable 4-3 win in Game 2 of the Caps' first-round series against the Islanders. The rest of Grubauer's 2014-15 was spent putting up solid numbers in the AHL (27-17-5/2.30/.921), a league which he has outgrown. Next stop? A near-certain gig as the Caps' number two netminder, and, perhaps more importantly, the opportunity to work with goaltending guru Mitch Korn.
With Braden Holtby signing a lengthy and lucrative contract extension earlier this summer weeks after the Caps selected another keeper in the first round, the biggest questions about Grubauer's future would seem to be less about "what" and more about "where" - he's looks poised for success, and won't want to be Holtby's understudy for too much longer.
6. Nate Schmidt, D (24.3; signed as an undrafted free agent April 2, 2013
That healthy-scratch role likely won't be a common occurrence in 2015-16, as Schmidt is expected to pair with the next guy on our list to form the Caps' third defensive duo and tackle a limited workload (and he could probably handle more). Schmidt's a good skater and a smart player, and those attributes set his floor pretty high. His ceiling? That remains to be seen.
So that wraps up the first 20 players on the countdown. Next week, we enter the top five.